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Romeo & Juliet

by William Shakespeare

If you're lucky, at some point in your life you have an experience that fulfills a dream. You get a big promotion, or you meet your soulmate, or you run for President and win (with the help of informed and registered voters!) For an actor, there might be many roles you're dying to embody. Some you may never have the chance to play.. (ex: I dream that someone will cast me as Hamlet someday.) I did, however, have the extreme joy and honor of falling in love and killing myself (sometimes twice) every day for the last two months as the "self-willed harlotry," "concealed lady," Juliet Capulet in the North Carolina Shakespeare Festival's fall production of Romeo & Juliet!

Juliet/Nurse (Lauren Sowa & Darrie Lawrence)
I have now returned to New York and as I'm readjusting to city life, I can't help but feel a little bit of PJSD -- Post Juliet Stress Disorder. It is manifesting itself in me as a feeling of emptiness. A feeling that there's a little hole in my heart. A constant searching for that level of passion and love in my day to day life.. (be warned New York!) and since I can't quite let the play go, I thought I'd blog about it while the experience is still fresh in my mind.

What to say about this amazing and much discussed play? Having done the play twice before (once as Juliet and once as a Nurse/Tybalt doubling that I'll tell you about over a drink.. hint: it involves rolling down aisles and fruit-throwing) I thought I knew it. And yet, no matter how familiar you are with a Shakespeare play, the mix of people that create the company will take the play to places you never dreamed. I was pleasantly surprised to find that from the first session of table work until the final curtain call I was learning new things about this play and this incredible, loyal, loving, girl.

The play begins smack dab in the middle of an ancient feud. We are never told what these two distinguished families are fighting about, but we know that it goes back generations. I think it's an important detail that the cause of the hate is never specified -- not only does that allow for each production to interpret it for themselves, it also places the focus on the hate itself and makes it harder to side with one family over the other. (Hard, but not impossible, since the Capulets are like, way better.)

The young men of Verona are quick to quarrel. The town is at peace - there is no war going on. All of that youthful energy is just pent up waiting for some release.

Tybalt.    What, art thou drawn among these heartless hinds?
Benvolio. I do but keep the peace. Put up thy sword.
Tybalt.    What, drawn, and talk of peace? I hate the word
                As I hate hell, all Montagues, and thee. 

I have always seen Tybalt as a soldier without a War. The very thought of peace makes his blood boil and he is loyal to a fault. The mere appearance of Romeo at his house is enough for Tybalt to want to kill him. If Verona were fighting a war, then the young men would be banding together for a common cause. Instead, they are fighting each other. If only the Prince had attacked Venice to obtain a summer home, then perhaps they could all lounge by the water and have babies. Alas, the Prince just kept winking at those discords.

And what of these two "star-crossed lovers?" Are they just crazy kids, acting out of teenage rebellion and lust, sure to grow apart if they lived a full life? I think not.

Call me crazy, call me a sucker, tell me I'm naive, but I think the love that Romeo and Juliet share is pure and true. To find that kind of connection with each other, after being raised in an environment of greed and hate, shows just how remarkable these two people really are. You know what, dear reader? I'll take it one step further and make the bold statement that Romeo and Juliet are the most responsible characters in the play. They choose to connect rather than push the 'other' away. They choose love over hate, acceptance over judgement, loyalty over an easy out, and peace over war.

When Romeo first sees Juliet, he says:

What lady's that?
O, she doth teach the torches to burn bright!
Did my heart love til now? Forswear it, sight!
For I ne'er saw true beauty til this night.

He doesn't know she's a Capulet until after he's fallen in love. It is the same with Juliet:

My only love, sprung from my only hate!
Too early seen unknown, and known too late!
Prodigious birth of love it is to me
That I must love a loathed enemy.

A perfect example of how 'hate' is a learned behavior. Juliet loves the man, not the name, not the title. "Tis but thy name that is my enemy. Thou art thyself, thou, not a Montague. What's Montague?... What's in a name?" If either had known who the other truly was, it's very possible that this play would be called Juliet & Paris: aka Cap Lady Cap (The Early Years). 

Luckily for us, the young lovers are not as conservative and close-minded as their parents' generation. They love in spite of and perhaps because of their differences. I suspect they know deep down that they aren't really so different after all. That 'ancient' grudge is not theirs to harbor -- it belongs to their parents, and their parents' parents.
Romeo (Sheldon Best) & Juliet (Lauren Sowa)

Talking Dots
In doing research for the play I stumbled upon this piece of artwork. It is called Talking Dots by artist Hanna Bischof. It is a visual representation of ROMEO & JULIET. The play is color-coded in terms of positive (red), negative (black) or neutral (gray) feelings of the respective characters, represented by 60,000 colored dots. "At one glance the emotional course of the story can be felt." When I first saw it, it immediately made me cry. You can see so clearly where they fall in love, and just how quickly that all falls apart. (For more info about the artist, as well as the images of King Lear and Hamlet, follow this link.)

I'm incredibly proud to have brought this story to thousands of students, teachers, and residents of High Point, NC. R&J stresses the importance of tolerance, cooperation, and love in the face of adversity -- all of which are relevant, timely, important issues. 

Until we meet again Verona.. 


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